Why BJP is not the only challenge Mamata Banerjee faces in Bengal ?

Rise of the BJP in Bengal is set to be the biggest challenge that the TMC and Mamata Banerejee will be facing next year in assembly election. But it is not the only challenge for Mamata Banerjee. There is a mini-revolt against Prashant Kishor, roped in to fix TMC's problems.

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Mamata Banerjee Bengal election BJP Prashant Kishor challenge
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a government function in Kolkata earlier this month. (Photo: PTI)

The West Bengal Assembly election is less than six months away. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee faces a humongous challenge from the BJP, which has set an ambitious target of winning 200 of 294 seats in the state assembly. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said so early this month. Mamata Banerjee has planned 600 rallies to defend her Bengal fortress with the election cry of "Save Bengal from BJP". But the BJP may not be her only challenge. Her election strategist Prashant Kishor is not being liked much by many of her loyalist party members. Some of them have already rebelled.

Prashant Kishor, who earned the reputation of turning around an election with his victorious association with the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and severe drubbing of the BJP in 2015 Bihar election, entered the TMC scheme of things after the 2019 Lok Sabha election jolt to Mamata Banerjee's party.

Her nephew and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee is usually credited for bringing in Prashant Kishor to help the TMC in 2021 West Bengal Assembly election.

TMC's tally of MPs had dropped from 34 to 22 in Bengal, which sends 42 parliamentarians to the Lok Sabha. The TMC has attributed this to perception management at district and block levels. Prashant Kishor was roped in to fix the problem.

PRASHANT KISHOR: SOLUTION OR PROBLEM?

But the issue with the TMC now is that it is not a cadre-based party such as the Left Front, which ruled the state for over three decades, or the BJP, which is challenging Mamata Banerjee's popularity in West Bengal.

Prashant Kishor's I-PAC mostly works with a very young team. The team is suggesting and making organisational changes at grassroots levels, something that many a times leaves veteran district TMC leaders angry.

The "cut money" jibe that BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi have used to target the TMC was the first sign of Prashant Kishor being heard by Mamata Banerjee, who warned her party members against asking "cut money" from government schemes. This upset senior party leaders, who felt the blanket-blame move was unjust.

Now, the TMC has a beeline of MLAs speaking out against Prashant Kishor.

WHO ALL ARE SPEAKING AGAINST PK?

Mihir Goswami, a TMC MLA from Cooch Behar district, has been with Mamata Banerjee since 1998, when the party was founded. There is speculation that he may join the BJP ahead of the Bengal election.

His complaint over Prashant Kishor's association with the TMC is this: "This is no longer the party of my didi. She is inactive and that is why her people are no longer required here. To stay in the party you have to be a 'yes man' or leave A party cannot be run by outsourcing it to a corporate house."

Some others have complained that their district and block committees were reorganised and they were not even consulted. Moreover, the "fresh graduates" are allegedly telling TMC veterans what to do to win election.

Hazi Niamot Sheikh is one such leader, who is said to be rattled by the manner in which workers from Prashant Kishor's team have approached his constituency. At a recent public rally, Sheikha said, "Prashant Kishor is the cause of all trouble. Suvendu Adhikari revived the party in Murshidabad. And now leaders who talk to him are facing action."

PROBLEMS GALORE NORTH AND SOUTH FOR TMC

Bengal minister Suvendu Adhikari and influential TMC leader Jagadish Chandra Barma Basunia are other big party leaders who are not happy with Prashant Kishor's alleged interference in the party's affairs.

This trend is more worrisome for the TMC in north Bengal, where the BJP had won seven out of eight Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 national polls. Hazi Niamot Sheikh's dissidence may spring trouble for the TMC in south Bengal. Murshidabad, Sheikh's stronghold, is a Muslim majority district.

Muslim voters have been a key factor for electoral success of Mamata Banerjee's TMC. With the BJP's rising stake in Bengal politics, observers see greater polarisation of voters in the next Bengal election. The TMC -- Abhishek Mukherjee and Prashant Kishor in particular -- is now in damage-control mode holding a flurry of meetings with disgruntled leaders in both north and south Bengal.

HOW BJP PLANS TO EXPLOIT

A divided house of the TMC months ahead of the Bengal election is, however, a good opening for the BJP, which has made key organisational changes to go full tilt in the state. Mamata Banerjee is facing a two-term anti-incumbency. The Covid-19 pandemic has only magnified anti-incumbency against all state governments. Bihar recently showed that in its state election.

Further, to counter, Prashant Kishor's expertise in setting up a social media narrative, the BJP has made its IT cell chief Amit Malviya co-incharge of Bengal election. Malviya has been aggressive in setting BJP's narrative on social media.

Mamata Banerjee is embarking on "Save Bengal from BJP" mission from Sunday (November 22) with a plan to hold at least two public rallies in each of the 294 constituencies. The BJP has its own strategy in place. It is reaching out to ground-level workers, even those disgruntled, with the objective of manning every single polling booth for the Bengal election.

At the top, BJP president JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are to visit Bengal at least once a month to supervise poll preparations. Mamata Banerjee has a twin-battle to win to make it her third term in April-May next year.

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